Formerly called Akyab, is situated in the Rakhine State, a long narrow coastal region to the west of Myanmar, separated from the mainland by the Rakhine Yoma (mountain range). Sittway is the capital of the state and a seaport with a rich hinterland producing crops, fish and Rakhine Longyis. Though Sittwe itself has few places of interest, a popular tourist destination in the Rakhine State, Mrauk Oo, can be reached only via Sittwe.
Mrauk Oo, an ancient royal capital known for its old temples with wall paintings of Indian cultural influence, teems with interesting historical sites, cultural edifices, antiques and articles of archaeological value. Sights worth seeing in Sittwe include Atulamarazein Pyilon Chan Tha Pagoda, Kyayoke, Mahakuthala Monastery, Adeilhtim Sima, the Buddha Museum and the Rakhine State Cultural Museum.
The old capital of Rakhine (Arakan) was first constructed by
King Min Saw Mon in 15 century, and remained its capital for 355 years. The
golden city of Mrauk U became known in Europe as a city of oriental splendor
after Friar Sebastian Manrique visited the area in early 17th century. Father
Manrique's vivid account of the coronation of King Thiri Thudhamma in 1635 and
about the Rakhine Court and intrigues of the Portuguese adventurers fire the
imagination of later authors. The English author Maurice Collis who made Mrauk U
and Rakhine famous after his book, The Land of the Great Image based on Friar
Manrique' travels in Arakan.
The Shitethaung is the most spectacular of King Mong Bong's massive temples in Mrauk U. The king built this fortress-temple after repulsing a Portuguese attack on the City of Mrauk U. The skill and art displayed in its construction and ornamentation are remarkable. Besides, we may observe here about the maze-like layout of this pagoda. In the accounts of this curious plan, some foreigners remarked that the Shitthaung Pagoda was built alike a fortress. The real purpose of the pagoda was for prayer, some rituals of initiation, and some of the King’s ceremonies, which were usually held secretly. It was constructed six feet thick of solid sandstone and like "rock cave tunnel". No mortar was used in the construction and stones were connected with stone brackets. The shrine is said to encase 84, 000 holy relics of the Blessed one and it dedicated to the 84, 000 future Buddhas.
The Andaw (meaning the tooth relic of Buddha) is a pagoda only 86 feet to the north-east of the Shitthaung Pagoda. This shrine was originally built by Min Hla Raza in 1521 A.D. The central tower of the shrine contains the tooth-relic of Buddha obtained from Sri Lanka by King Minbin. The shrine is an octagonal structure of pure sandstone, with two internal octangular concentric passages. Fifteen small circular pagodas, built of bricks stand on the platforms of south, north and west of the shrine. On the east, there is a prayer hall, which has an entrance each on the east, north, and south sides; a stonewall divides it from the outer court, which is also circum passed by a wall. There are two inner pavements inside the temple. On both walls of the first pavement there are small niches in which a total of 142 Buddha images are placed to be worshipped.
Htukkan (or Dukkhan) Thein is located about 300 feet to the north-west of Shitthaung Pagoda. Built in 1571 by King Min Phalaung it is on a hillock 30 feet high, with two stone stair ways (8) feet broad on the east and south. No longer used as an Ordination Hall, it is now one of the well-known pagodas of Mrauk-U. There is a long vaulted passageway which leads to the central shrine room which is 15 feet in height. This room is said to be the place where the Buddhist Archbishop used to sit to discuss religious affairs with Senior Monks. See the seated stone ladies preserving in sculpture the ancient hair-styles, among the many other interesting figures. There are also 140 niches with Buddha images
Standing on a plain of rice fields is the Koethaung Pagoda; the name means 90,000 and probably signified the number of Buddha images it was supposed to contain. It was built by King Min Taikkha, the son of King Min Bin who built the Shitthaung or temple of 80,000 images, so the son exceeded the father by 10,000! It is the biggest pagoda in the Mrauk-U area.
Like the Shitthaung, this pagoda is also a massive fortress-like structure built with stone walls and terraces. There are 108 smaller pagodas surrounding it, all made of sandstone. With a winding corridor it is like a cave tunnel which you have to traverse until you reach the central chamber.
The inner gallery has collapsed
and is no longer accessible. There is an octagonal pagoda in the middle
surrounded by over one hundred smaller pagodas. Unlike some of the other
temples, not only sandstone, but bricks were also used in this pagoda.
Mahamuni Buddha Image, which is now in Mandalay, was cast and venerated some 15 miles from Mrauk U where another Mahamuni Buddha Image flanked by two other Buddha images. Mrauk U can be easily reached via Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State. From Yangon there are daily flights to Sittwe and there are small private boats as well as larger public boats plying through the Kaladan river to Mrauk U. It is only 45 miles from Sittwe and the seacoast. To the east of the old city is the famous Kispanadi stream and far away the Lemro river. The city area used to have a network of canals. Mrauk U maintains a small archaeological Museum near Palace site, which is right in the center of town. As a prominent capital Mrauk U was carefully built in a strategic location by leveling three small hills. The pagodas are strategically located on hilltops and serve as fortresses; indeed they are once used as such in times of enemy intrusion. There are moats, artificial lakes and canals and the whole area could be flooded to deter or repulse attackers. There are innumerable pagodas and Buddha images all over the old city and the surrounding hills. Some are still being used as places of worship today many in ruins, some of which are now being restored to their original splendor.